History is too odd and too human to be treated like a science. It's better to think of it as a laboratory.
Problematizing Gun Control
Alex Jones may not be the best advocate for expansive gun rights. However, in his debate with Piers Morgan on CNN earlier this month, he repeatedly stated his primary defense for his own position as different formations of the following quote:
The second amendment isn’t there for duck-hunting; it’s there to protect us from tyrannical government and street thugs.
There may very well be a solid historical case to be made that the philosophical rooting of the 2nd Amendment in its original passage very much had to do with arming citizens with the right to defend themselves against the government and the right to defend themselves against fellow citizens behaving badly. If one holds to a roughly originalist jurisprudence, then Jones’ argument holds Constitutional water – for “the right of people to keep and bear arms” to be infringed upon would go against the original intent, understanding, and text of the 2nd Amendment.
Yet it seems that the arguments for increased gun control stem from primarily practical, rather than jurisprudential concerns. “It’s all well and good,” a gun control advocate might argue, “that the States meant such-and-such when they ratified this amendment, but practically, don’t we want to stop awful shootings like those at Columbine and Newton from happening ever again? And, as Morgan argues, isn’t it the case that lots of these countries with stricter gun laws have fewer per capita deaths by gun violence per year?” The gun control argument then has at least two oft-conflated goods which advocates see as being at stake. The first is the good of responsible jurisprudence; the second is the practical good of individuals’ safety. Alas, conversations rarely happen with these goods being clearly stated and arguments for and against positions being clearly oriented towards the protection/upholding of said goods. In a brief moment, I’d like to make a point about Jones’ argument, but only after I emphasize that here is where the argument needs to be cleanly split into its two streams. I want to leave aside the practical concern about citizens protecting themselves from other citizens using weapons for the moment. I think that conversation is potentially interesting and could be informative, but it is contingent to the point I wish to make in this post.
Instead, I’d like to focus on the claim that the 2nd amendment is there to allow citizens to defend themselves against the government. For argument’s sake, let’s take on faith that this is a valid historical claim. Consider previous information that Jones provides Morgan with about the government’s purchasing of weapons:
…the government buys 1.6 billion bullets, armored vehicles, tanks, helicopters, predator drones, armed, now in U.S. skies, being used to arrest people in North Dakota.
I’ve not done a serious study of the U.S. defense budget; as such, I can’t verify the 1.6 billion bullet number. But given that the United States Department of Defense does have a budget of over $650 billion, these numbers seem absolutely plausible. And of course, we know that the government does have armored vehicles, tanks, and helicopters, as well as predator drones – whether or not they’re being used to arrest people in North Dakota (or any other state).
My question, therefore, is this: do Jones et. al. really feel as though their guns – even their assault weaponry is going to do them much good against the United States government in the case that “1776 will commence again?” How does Jones’ supposed militant uprising expect to succeed against the most technologically and financially sophisticated military that the world has probably ever seen? I ask this seriously – even if the spirit of the 2nd amendment is grounded in protecting the rights of the American people to rise up and overthrow their government via military takeover, is it really plausible that the American people could do that? Indeed, could the American people even really defend themselves against a government that was seriously interested in harming them? My intuition is probably not.
This isn’t an argument for or against defense spending. It certainly is not a knock-down argument for increased gun control. But it does seem to me that Jones and his crew have more explanatory work to do to be successful. Spirit of the 2nd amendment aside, his argument’s practical contingencies are just not plausible.
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